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How to Surrender Freedom

Monday, February 25th, 2013

When in the fight for liberty should one give up?

Never. Contrary to deterministic notions of social change, there’s nothing inevitable or permanent about any loss of our freedom.

What then should we make of the words of Daily Debate scrivener Robert Tracinski? Noting criticism of Florida Governor Rick Scott for reversing his stand against the Democrats’ health care reform package, Tracinski, also a foe of Obamacare, asserts that the battle to either repeal or block it “was effectively over with November’s election, when Democrats retained the presidency and control of the Senate.”

A bad blow is not a permanent conquest, however.

Scott’s opposition was central to his 2010 campaign for governor. As governor, he led a lawsuit against Obamacare. After the Supreme Court’s anti-constitutional decision upholding it, he said he would keep fighting by declining federal funds to expand Medicaid.

Alas, Scott has now thrown in the towel. (We don’t know yet whether state lawmakers, whose acquiescence is also required, will similarly discard their drenched terrycloth.) Proponents of greater government hegemony over the medical industry crow that all other hitherto recalcitrant governors will, in the words of David Firestone, “soon knuckle under and do exactly the same thing. . . . By investing a relatively small amount of their own money to cover the poor, states get a huge increase in federal Medicaid funds.”

You see how the bribe to the states is made. Cave in to a usurpation, and some of the apparent increased burdens will be borne not at the state level, but by the already insolvent, debt-ridden, deficit-addicted federal government.

It’s a sick system. And I’m not talking about just Obamacare.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

When It’s Smart to Play Dumb

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

In 1993, I was in Russia to witness Boris Yeltsin’s first referendums, which was perhaps the high point of Russian democracy.

Along with the sweep of history, I also remember boarding a midnight train from Moscow to St. Petersburg and being accosted by some kind of Russian gendarme. This fellow berated me in words none of which I understood. I could tell he wanted something from me (money, probably). So I stood there looking bewildered and playing dumb — my specialty — until the guy finally lapsed into frustrated silence and I could walk away. Another Russian later told me that it was indeed a shakedown attempt.

The incident came to mind when I heard about a recent attempted robbery down in Tampa. Three masked thugs spilled into a Chinese restaurant and demanded the contents of the cash register. According to a brief report, the trio “left empty-handed after the restaurant workers who only spoke Cantonese couldn’t understand what the English-speaking suspects were saying.” At one point, a gun went off when the would-be robbers banged the cash register with it.

The report states that the “botched robbery” was caused by a “failure to understand English.” Well, maybe the workers knew little English. But they knew what the robbers wanted. The workers played dumb. More basically, they refused to cooperate.

Risky. I’m not saying you should try this at home. But sometimes being too dumb to be victimized is the smartest thing you can do.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

The Uncontroversial .45-Caliber Slug

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

Some legislation is “shoot from the hip” . . . not carefully thought out, but obviously echoing a not-uncommon sentiment, if not common sense itself.

Florida’s Representative Brad Drake (R-Eucheeanna) has concocted a fine example, HB 325.  He got the idea from an overheard conversation. He was in a Waffle House, and one of his constituents was chatting about the Manuel Valle case in the Supreme Court. The convicted murderer had appealed many times, and what the Supreme Court was mulling over was the Valle’s objection to the manner of capital punishment, particularly the drug used in the lethal injection, to which he had been sentenced.

“You know, they ought to just put them in the electric chair or line them up in front of a firing squad,” said the Floridian.

So Drake wrote up a bill to junk lethal injection, offering, instead, the electric chair as the standard method, with a “firing squad” option.

“There shouldn’t be anything controversial about a .45-caliber bullet,” Drake insists.

None of this addresses my big problem with capital punishment — our American states’ actual, sorry record on the issue. There have been far too many wrongfully convicted innocents.

I freely confess: If I had to be executed, I might prefer a firing squad.

But since I’d almost certainly be innocent, I’d rather not have to make any decision regarding my unjust killing.

Shoot-from-the-hip legislating is not the proper response to the death penalty controversy.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Derailing Washington’s Train Fixation

Friday, March 18th, 2011

The great age of trains — the 19th century — spawned a few amazing political careers, not excluding the railway lawyer, Abraham Lincoln. Many major railroads depended on moving politicians first, earth and iron second.

More than ever, today’s passenger rail lines are creatures of the state. Amtrak loses money, and could only be successful as a private operation were politicians able to let its unprofitable lines go.

Congress insists, instead, on putting up more money-losing railways in as many places as possible. President Obama even tried to get a bullet train put through between Tampa and Orlando, despite the fact that the two Florida cities were too close to each other for a super-fast train to make any sense.

Worse for the bullet was the politics.

In 2000, Floridians had voted in high-speed monorail; in 2004, they voted in greater numbers to kill their own project. Voters realized that, with politicians in charge, railroad projects tended to go runaway.

Perhaps that helped convince Rick Scott, the new governor, to reject the federal government’s offer to pay $2.4 billion of a $2.6 billion bullet train. The billions of “free money” that the Obama Administration promised began to seem, well, costly.

So, of course, the federal government sued. In early March, a Florida court ruled that the governor did indeed have the power to tell the feds to play with trains elsewhere.

A minor victory for railway sanity. A major victory for federalism.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Pensacola Tea Party

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

The Boston Tea Party wasn’t about tea. It wasn’t even about high taxes.

“The Boston Tea Party happened during a time of very low taxes,” explains Eric O’Keefe on the Heritage Foundation blog, “and the tea in the harbor had the lowest price of any tea from Britain for years.… But the patriots viewed their local control of government and taxes as an essential anchor for their liberty, so they rebelled at a violation of a basic principle.”

The Tea Party — the American Revolution — was about government. Self-government.

The same issue has surfaced in Pensacola, Florida, where ten citizens are circulating a petition there to challenge a “design-build” contract the City Council approved in May to develop a park and build a stadium.

The Pensacola News Journal headline reads: “Petition drive won’t stop park, CMPA attorney says.” The CMPA is the Community Maritime Park Associates. Their attorney, Ed Fleming, says “Even if they did collect enough signatures and it does get approved by voters, the park has passed a point of approval that it is going to be built now.”


One of the petitioners, former City Councilman Jack Nobles, said, “I would hope they would re-evaluate their positions based on the wishes of the public.”

It’s not about a stadium or a park construction process. Or tea or taxes. It’s about self-government, about keeping citizens in charge.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Don’t Outlaw the First Amendment

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

Should Doug Guetzloe go to jail for speaking his mind?

I say No.

That’s not State Attorney Lawson Lamar’s answer. Lamar tried to imprison Guetzloe for 14 years.

In 2006, Doug Guetzloe distributed a flyer about mayoral candidate David Strong to Winter Park, Florida, residents. It pertained to an embarrassing dustup Strong had with a neighbor. The police report Guetzloe quoted is publicly available. The alleged crime is not libel.

Lamar charged Guetzloe with violating Florida’s election laws. One is supposed to include a disclaimer with any paid electioneering communication saying it’s an electioneering communication. The flyer did not advocate voting for or against any candidate. Not that doing so should jeopardize anyone’s liberty either.

Guetzloe pled no contest, thinking any penalty would be trivial. But he was sentenced to 60 days in jail and $8500 in fines. The easiest path might still have been to just do the time and pay the fine. But Guetzloe has been fighting back, spending a small fortune on legal fees.

Late in 2008, his attorneys filed a motion with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking it to declare Florida’s Electioneering Communications law to be unconstitutional. A little earlier, a federal judge had restrained the State of Florida from enforcing that law.

There is only one right ruling here. The high court should uphold the right to freedom of speech.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Florida Anti-Speech Tyranny

Monday, October 27th, 2008

The Broward Coalition of Condominiums, Homeowners Associations and Community Organizations, Inc., regularly puts out newsletters. No surprise. Lots of organizations do.

This Florida organization, though, does something more. Its newsletters regularly feature political subjects. Nothing shocking about that, either. This is America, right?

Well, yes. But the First Amendment has been abridged. In Florida, especially, there exist onerous “electioneering communications” laws that squelch the kind of speech that the Broward Coalition engages in.

Florida law requires any group of people to register with the government if the group mentions a candidate or ballot issue in any media — electronic, paper, or plastic — and to report all of its spending and funding sources, too.

That kind of oppressive control is what started the American Revolution. Fortunately, we have a less violent way of opposing speech tyranny today.

The Broward Coalition has joined with the National Taxpayers Union and the University of Florida College Libertarians to file suit. Represented by the Institute for Justice, they charge that the law regulating their speech goes against the First Amendment.

Bert Gall, IJ senior attorney, puts it exactly right when he insists that “Florida’s law is part of a growing trend of shutting up and shutting out anyone but political pros from politics.”

And that trend must be stopped.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.